The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the most widespread of fifteen American species from the Trochilidae family. Every year, these tiny birds migrate to their breeding grounds in the eastern half of the USA and Canada. They are the only Hummingbird species that birdwatchers are likely to see in much of their summer range, although telling males from females can be challenging.
So what do female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds look like?
The female Ruby-throated Hummingbird is a tiny bird with a long, straightish bill, a short tail, and very small feet and legs. They are metallic green above and pale whitish below. Females usually differ from males by having a whitish throat and a rounded tail with white tips on the outer feathers.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are easily told from males if you can get a good look at them. However, they also have several behavioral differences that can help observant birdwatchers confirm their identification.
Female Hummingbirds can be notoriously difficult to distinguish from females of other species. Fortunately, you can rule out most other species based on their distribution range.
Would you like to learn more about the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird? Read along to learn all about these energetic little birds.
Close up of a Ruby-throated hummingbird in mid air
The most obvious difference between male and female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is their throat color. Males have a black face and a dark gorget that reflects a brilliant orange or ruby shade in good light. Females have a whitish throat, occasionally with some red feathers.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, like most members of their family, are sexually dimorphic. This trait is common in many birds and means males and females show distinct physical differences.
Interestingly, females also sound a little different from males in flight. A hovering female produces a softer and lower-pitched humming sound than her male counterparts.
Continue reading to learn more about the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird's appearance.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Female Ruby-throats are typical Hummingbirds. These tiny birds are usually seen hovering around flowers and nectar feeders, but you might also spot them sitting on a branch. When perched, their short legs create the impression that they are resting on their belly.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a two-tone appearance. They are metallic green in good light, and their throats, chest, belly, and under tails are pale whitish. Their long, straight bill is black, as are their eyes and feet.
Females do not have colorful throats or ‘gorgets’ like males. However, many older females develop a handful of metallic red feathers on their throats.
While this could cause some confusion, a good look at the bird's tail can help you confirm its sex. Females have white tips to the outer tail feathers, while males do not. The female’s tail is also rounded, whereas the male has a forked tail.
Female Ruby-throated hummingbird hovering at fuschia plant
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds appear very similar to juvenile males. However, they can be told apart by comparing their tail shape and throat markings.
Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may have some light spots on their throat, while young males tend to have dark green speckling or streaks until they develop their colorful gorgets.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can be confused with a few other American Hummingbird species. They are the only Hummingbird you are likely to see across most of the Eastern Half of the USA and Canada, but they overlap with the Black-chinned Hummingbird in Texas and several other species along the Gulf Coast.
Compare the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird with the following species before confirming your identification:
Close up of a juvenile male Ruby-throated hummingbird
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are bigger than males. The weight difference might be just half a gram on average, but that is significant relative to their total mass. Females are generally larger in all respects, including bill, wing, and leg length. However, males tend to have longer tails.
Female (left) and male (right) Ruby-throated hummingbird pair in flight
The physical differences between male and female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds make it fairly easy to tell them apart. However, the sexes also show some notable behavioral differences.
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are more aggressive than females. Males are highly territorial in the breeding season and defend an area with good food resources to attract a female. If his territory is attractive enough, he will court any potential mates with some acrobatic displays.
The excited male acts aggressively towards the female, swooping at her from heights of up to fifty feet (15 m) before turning up at the end. As the courtship progresses, he will switch to a new display flight to impress the now perched female.
For his next trick, the male performs a side-to-side arcing shuttle flight.
If the courtship displays described above are successful, a receptive female will produce a ‘mew’ call to signal her readiness to mate. However, other vocal differences between the sexes can help birdwatchers identify a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds produce a soft ‘ticking’ call while feeding, and territorial males make a repetitive ‘chipping’ call in the early mornings.
Female, left, and male, right, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
If you are lucky enough to see a nesting Ruby-throated Hummingbird, you can be pretty sure it’s a female. Continue reading to learn more about her nesting and feeding behaviors.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds choose a site and construct the nest without any help. They usually build on the branches of trees, although some birds use artificial structures like cables. The nest is a neat cup of soft plant materials and spider silk, which takes about a week to complete.
Females usually lay two tiny white eggs, although some nests contain one or three. She will incubate the eggs for about two weeks, only taking short breaks to feed herself during the day.
Females feed the baby Hummingbirds on their own. They provide protein and energy-rich insects and nectar by regurgitating directly into the chicks’ mouths. The young birds spend about three weeks in the nest and are fed for a further week after fledging.
Female Ruby-throated hummingbird sat on the nest
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds raise their young without any assistance from a male. They build the nest, sit on the eggs, and feed the babies alone.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are metallic green above and whitish/ pale gray below. They have a buff-colored wash to the plumage on their flanks. Their eyes, feet, and bills are black.
The lack of the colourful gorget makes identification of male and female Ruby-throated hummingbirds relatively simple
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds produce a variety of calls. Their ‘mew’ call is heard just before mating and when they are at the nest. They frequently call to warn off unwelcome intruders while perched or feeding, and they are very vocal while migrating south in the fall.
Hummingbirds are highly territorial, although female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are far less territorial than males. However, females may defend their nesting territory.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds usually have pale throats, sometimes with some fine dark spots. Older females may develop a small number of iridescent red feathers on their throats, although they do not have a full gorget like adult males.
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